Sexting halts Weiner's promising political career

June 16, 2011 - 5:28 PM
Weiner Twitter Photos

Anthony Weiner returns home after he announced his resignation from Congress Thursday, June 16, 2011 in the Queens borough of New York. Weiner resigned from Congress, saying he cannot continue in office amid the intense controversy surrounding sexually explicit messages he sent online to several women. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

NEW YORK (AP) — As tempers flared one day last year over President Barack Obama's pending health care overhaul legislation, New York Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner stepped to the House floor. "The Republican Party is a wholly owned subsidiary of the insurance industry. That's a fact!" Weiner bellowed to his colleagues.

It was classic Weiner TV: loud, liberal and attention-grabbing. His signature bravado and self-promotion were part of a long-calculated plan Weiner hoped would one day make him New York City mayor.

That promising career flamed out on Thursday, after an errant Tweet Weiner sent to a young woman last month set off a chain of events that reduced the 46-year-old politician to an agonizing news conference at which hecklers shouted obscene questions while he tried to manage a dignified final statement.

With the click of a mouse, Weiner threw away his chance to succeed legendary New York mayors like LaGuardia, Koch, Giuliani and Bloomberg. The scrappy, self-assured street fighter who relished taunting rivals on the hockey rink and in the House ultimately defeated himself — his legacy now a spate of tabloid headlines and cache of sexually provocative photos and texts sent to strangers.

"He had a dark side, and that dark side destroyed him," Weiner constituent Irwin Cohen, 69, said.

Weiner told reporters he decided to resign "so my colleagues can get back to work, my neighbors can choose a new representative and more importantly that my wife and I can continue to heal from the damage I have caused." His wife of 11 months, top Hillary Rodham Clinton aide Huma Abedin, is pregnant with the couple's first child.

It was an ignominious fall for Weiner, who navigated the cutthroat world of New York politics for two decades. He had had a wildly successful climb that began at the State University of New York-Plattsburgh, where Weiner enrolled hoping to play competitive hockey but became fascinated by politics instead. Weiner joined Schumer's staff after graduating from Plattsburgh in 1985 and would forever cite Schumer as his political role model.

Weiner won a seat on the New York City Council in 1991 at 27, the youngest person ever to do so. When Schumer relinquished his House seat to run for Senate in 1998, Weiner succeeded him.

Weiner was known for near-constant media exposure rather than legislative accomplishments in the House. His slogan, "a Democrat who fights," won him legions of liberal fans who admired the way he stood up to Republicans on issues like health care and funding for public radio and Planned Parenthood.

While Weiner's edgy, in-your-face style made him a C-Span favorite, it often rubbed colleagues the wrong way.

Last summer, Weiner launched a tirade against Republicans on the House floor over a bill to provide $7.4 billion in aid to those sickened by dust from the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.

"You vote yes if you believe yes!" he screamed at New York Republican Rep. Peter King.

The outburst drew heavy media coverage but annoyed some of his Democratic colleagues who'd been working hard to round up GOP support for the measure.

Weiner made no secret of his hope to succeed New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg. He made his first attempt in 2005, but lost to Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, who was crushed in the general election. Weiner planned to run again in 2009 until Bloomberg got the city's term limits law changed.

Weiner had collected over $4.5 million in his campaign account and was all but certain to run again in 2013 when Bloomberg is finally expected to step down.

A longtime bachelor whose dating adventures had been widely chronicled in the New York tabloids, Weiner became engaged in 2009 to the beautiful and elegant Abedin. Their marriage last July made Weiner an honorary member of the Democratic Party's most prominent family — a connection that turned tawdry as his online sexual antics brought back memories of President Clinton's dalliance with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Over the last tortuous two weeks, details Weiner's secret life were revealed — how he had used social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to exchange lewd messages and photos with women online.

On Friday evening, May 27, Weiner was at home watching a hockey game while Abedin was away. That's when he sent a photo of his bulging underpants to Genette Cordova, a 21-year old college student from Washington state who had begun following him on Twitter.

Weiner said he panicked when he realized his mistake and immediately pulled the photo down. But by then it had been intercepted and forwarded to conservative provocateur Andrew Breitbart, who posted it on his BigGovernment blog.

For the next 10 days, Weiner tried unsuccessfully to tamp down the controversy.

He insisted his Twitter account had been hacked. He joked about his surname. He stonewalled, raged and obfuscated. But the subterfuge proved impossible as Breitbart published more photos, including one of Weiner posing shirtless in his Congressional office. Megan Broussard, a Texas woman who had exchanged messages with Weiner, agreed to sit for an interview with ABC News.

On Monday morning, June 6, Weiner began to come clean. He told his wife, friends and advisers that he had sent the crotch photo and had lied to protect himself.

Aides scrambled to set up a press conference later that day. On a conference call, Weiner warned them that the details of his online behavior would prove embarrassing, humiliating, and potentially career ending. He laid out the facts and advisers prepared a written statement for him to read in front of the sea of cameras.

The press conference proved riveting as Weiner, teary but defiant, apologized for lying but insisted he would hang onto his seat. Abedin did not appear with him but joined him later before jetting overseas the next day with Clinton.

The fallout grew worse for Weiner as the week wore on. Broussard told ABC she had received dozens of sexually provocative messages from him. Other women shared their stories with gossip sites like TMZ. An X-rated photo purportedly of Weiner's genitalia made its way online, as a spokeswoman acknowledged he had sent such photos to women in the past.

By Friday, when Weiner was forced to acknowledge he had been chatting privately with a 17-year old Delaware girl on Twitter, the party's leadership was ready to pull the plug. On Saturday, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-FL, and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel, D-NY all released statements calling on Weiner to step down. The same day, Weiner's spokesman announced he had gone to an undisclosed location to receive professional treatment to be a "better husband and a healthier person."

Weiner stayed out of sight this week, telling friends he would make a decision on his future once Abedin returned. But President Obama weighed in, pressing for Weiner to step down. And the drip-drip of revelations continued, as Ginger Lee, an exotic dancer who Weiner had acknowledged following on Twitter, held a press conference Wednesday to say Weiner had offered to help her mislead the press about their relationship.

Weiner phoned members of the House leadership Wednesday evening to let them know he would resign. He announced his plans at the Brooklyn senior center where he launched his first bid for city council, saying he hoped to find another way to serve.

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Associated Press writer Andy Miga contributed to this report from Washington.